When it comes to disaster planning, it pays to be a pessimist. This may be one of the biggest legacies from the last decade’s catastrophic events, from the September 11 attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and Japan’s earthquake-driven nuclear disaster. While a healthy, rational temperament may eschew worst-case scenarios, public officials will need to take an increasingly vigilant stance to save lives when the next major catastrophe strikes.
That view is shared by people like Dr. Jennifer Leaning, an expert in early response efforts to war and disaster at the Harvard School of Public Health. Most major disasters, she argues, have a significant element of the predictable to them and there can be little excuse for those who fail to think them through. Hurricanes and other storms will only do more damage to cities and towns that are more densely populated than ever. Earthquakes can shake the very core of nuclear reactors. And when struck hard enough, by men instead of the elements, the Twin Towers did fall.
The figures are stark. With nearly 36 million people worldwide suffering the mind-robbing disease Alzheimer’s, spending on their care accounts for one percent of global GDP. Health experts believe that number could double, triple or even quadruple in the next 40 years as the world’s population ages. It will likely become one of the biggest single public health issues worldwide.
That means we can expect more patients, and their families, who will fight for public resources to find a cure and help care for the ill. And the expectation that it will soon be possible to test people early for the disease, even before they show symptoms, will mean millions more citizens globally will become aware of how helpless we are right now in this fight.